Second chance for high school dropouts in South LA

image Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa unveiled 13 new YouthSource Centers on Friday with four of them located in South Los Angeles, and tasked with the goal of getting high school dropouts to finish their education.

The Youth Source system is a redesign of Los Angeles’ OneSource Center, which previously focused on job searching efforts for in-school youth. Now, the agenda has shifted to get out-of-school youth back into school to receive their high school diploma or pass the General Educational Development (GED) test.

Mike Fong, east area director for the City of Los Angeles and senior liaison to Asian Pacific Islander community, said the criteria for where the centers would be placed was the “fairly high dropout rates” of high schools in the city.

imageThere were seven planning areas such as South L.A., and within those areas are one or several YouthSource centers. Fong said each center is operated by a non-profit organization.

“It was a competitive process and raters looked at proposals and picked the best operators that would fulfill the need for the community,” said Fong.

In South LA, two centers are operated by Watts Labor Community Action Center and the others by Brotherhood Crusade and Archdiocesan Youth Employment.

Fong said each center services neighboring high schools and is employed with a full-time Pupil Services and Attendance Counselor who reaches out to out-of-school students from a list of high school dropouts. Students are also free to join the center themselves said Fong.

In order for students to become involved in the YouthSource program, they must be 16 to 21 years old, live in Los Angeles and be income eligible. Students are asked to be involved with the program for at least one year where they receive guidance on reenrolling in high school and various other services like work readiness and computer training.

Fong said the future of the YouthSource system is to decrease high school dropout rates and prepare students for college and work.

“This is really a second chance opportunity,” said Fong.

The system, managed by the City’s Community Development Department, was made possible through $13 million annually provided by the Federal Workforce Investment Act and a new $12 million grant from the Department of Labor’s Workforce Innovation Fund.

Michelle King, assistant superintendent at Los Angeles Unified School District said there are a variety of student recovery programs in place, but what differentiates the YouthSource Centers is the umbrella of services it provides students from family to financial concerns.

“It’s like a case worker. It’s not just to get them back in school, but to stay,” she said.

King said the dropout rate for LAUSD is at 24 percent, the lowest in five years, compared to its previous standing at 33 percent, and the high school graduation rate is 64 percent.

A Very Healthy Happy Halloween

Children from across South Los Angeles went “trick or treating” Friday night at the Los Angeles Expo Center. But at the end of the night, their bags weren’t full of candy — they were full of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The Brotherhood Crusade, along with several other retailers and service organizations, held the second annual “Very Healthy Happy Halloween” event Friday night. The event was candy-free and offered healthy alternatives for children and their families.

“We’re really encouraging our families to look at how can they have a better healthy lifestyle and showing them alternatives on how to do that,” said Charisse Bremond-Weaver, the president of the Brotherhood Crusade, which provides social services for underprivileged areas throughout Los Angeles County.

After filling their bags with plums, bananas, carrots and more, children were able to go through a haunted house, have their fortune read, play in a petting zoo or do arts and crafts.

Bremond-Weaver estimated that more than 1,000 people from around South Los Angeles attended the event.

“When you look at how underserved communities have a lack of fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, it is really this desert of not healthy eating,” Bremond-Weaver said. “We really want to educate our community on the difference between healthy and unhealthy eating.”

Parents said they were excited to get the fresh fruits and vegetables. In South LA, where fast food is more common than supermarkets, fresh produce can be difficult to come by. All produce was donated by Coast Produce.

“Usually kids eat only candy and junk food and this event is opening them up to a lot of healthy stuff that we can’t always get,” said Noemy Molina, who brought her 6-year-old son Phoenix Chavez.

Jefferson Castillo, who brought his two young sons to play the games, said his kids seem to be happier and calmer when they eat healthily.

imageChildhood obesity has steadily risen over the last 50 years in the United States. Los Angeles area doctors said that almost 50 percent of their patients are either overweight or obese.

The biggest culprit for the weight problem?

Children are eating too much processed food instead of eating natural and organic foods, according to Dr. Matthew Keefer from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

“Certainly most of us don’t have as much access to fresh fruits and vegetables as we probably should, but also we are eating too many things that come in a package that have extra calories added to it or extra chemicals added to it that are there to preserve it but that aren’t necessarily healthy,” Keefer said.

The best way for parents to encourage healthy eating is to set a good example – eating balanced meals and treating candy, junk food and sodas as treats and not part of a regular diet.

“When they are not under their parents’ control they are going to do what they’ve seen their parents do because they think that is what is adult-like,” Keefer said.

Though economic and time constraints can prevent parents form maintaining an ideal, Keefer said that finding a happy medium is critical for a child’s health.

“We just need to do all that we can to make sure there are safe places for these kids to play and an expectation that a regular part of your diet should be natural things that grow rather than hot Cheetos that are died with food coloring,” he said.